Most readers know that I’ve been fairly insistent in recent commentaries that Oklahoma City continue our upward momentum by investing in quality of life infrastructure. That insistence has now turned to advocacy following the recent deaths of two Oklahoma City bicyclists on metro streets. Alan Spencer and Clyde Riggs were struck and killed by motorists while riding on metro streets two weeks ago.
Spencer and Riggs weren’t riding on Broadway Extension or Interstate 40 when they were struck. They were riding on streets that are common routes for cyclists in the metro area. Spencer was riding on Midwest Boulevard and Riggs on Britton Road. If common bike routes aren’t safe for bicyclists, what can be done?
In a city that desires to increase its standing among large cities in the United States and that wants to come off the “fat cities” lists and on to the “best places to live” lists, we have to be proactive in our approach. Spencer and Riggs were examples to us all in that Spencer, 56, and Riggs, 75, weren’t allowing themselves any excuses in staying fit and doing something I’m sure they loved.
Mayor Mick Cornett has famously challenged us all to go on a diet, which is great, but city leaders must also take seriously the need for what can be called quality of life infrastructure, such as bike lanes, trails and green belts. Spencer and Riggs could have been on city streets because they didn’t want to ride in circles around Lake Hefner. My cycling friends do ride around Lake Hefner, but for no other reason than they don’t have to worry about a half-ton pickup running them off the road.
Bike lanes are the answer to these concerns. Many major cities have constructed bike lanes or have plans to. Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and virtually every city in Southern California have constructed or plan to construct dedicated bike lanes on city streets. The result is a more active and less sedentary lifestyle for residents. You can’t drive up Highway 101 on a Saturday in Southern California without passing hundreds of spandex-wearing cyclists all making you feel guilty for being in your car. We need to do the same here.
Motorists have been warned time and again to be attentive to cyclists and to “share the road,” however, motorists continue to negligently strike cyclists, run them off the road or yell obscenities at them for having the nerve to be there.
Bike lanes have been shown to significantly reduce the chance of a motorist-cyclist collision as well as to encourage cycling as a means of transportation. Bike lanes also promote an orderly flow of traffic, help define the road space and encourage cyclists to obey traffic signals as well. And this could be made possible on many streets with nothing more than a new paint job. Why not try?
Cycling is on the rise in the Oklahoma City metro area. A quick Google search brings up at least a half dozen bicycle shops in the metro. More cyclists are a good thing for Oklahoma City, but we need the infrastructure to safely support the trend. We consistently widen roads to accommodate increased traffic patterns to encourage flow and safety for vehicles. It’s time we do the same for cyclists.
Smith is an attorney living in Oklahoma City.